Practically all human populations are environmentally exposed to cadmium (Cd), mostly through plant-derived food. A growing body of epidemiological evidence suggests that there is no margin of safety between current Cd exposure levels and the threshold for adverse health effects and, hence, there is an urgent need to lower human Cd intake. Here we review recent studies on rice (Oryza sativa) and Cd-hyperaccumulating plants that have led to important insights into the processes controlling the passage of Cd from the soil to edible plant organs. The emerging molecular understanding of Cd uptake, root retention, root-to-shoot translocation and grain loading will enable the development of low Cd-accumulating crops. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.